In arguments in a case that could drastically limit abortion access in the south-eastern United States, the Florida supreme court on Friday seemed open to arguments to uphold a law that bans abortion past 15 weeks of pregnancy.
If the state’s high court upholds the 15-week ban under consideration, a separate, stricter law would take effect prohibiting abortion after six weeks, before many people know they are pregnant.
“It would be devastating for providers to have to turn even more folks away under a six-week ban,” said Whitney White, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “They’re already having to turn away patients under the current 15-week ban.”
Friday’s hearing is the culmination of Republican efforts to end Florida’s legacy as a safe haven for abortion seekers in neighboring states. Five of the seven justices on the current state supreme court were selected by the conservative governor, Ron DeSantis, fueling the concerns of Floridians who support abortion access.
Throughout the hearing, the justices peppered White and the attorney representing Florida, Henry Whitaker, with questions about whether Florida’s constitutional right to privacy encompasses abortion.
At one point, Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz – a DeSantis appointee – suggested that Roe v Wade, the 1973 supreme court case that legalized abortion nationwide, was an “abomination”. At another, he said that the fact that the US supreme court overturned Roe in 2022 revealed the right to an abortion to be a “mirage”.
“You’re asking us to essentially take a whole class of human beings and put them outside of the protection of the law? Essentially, in the sense that – if the legislature wants to protect those human beings, they are precluded by the constitution of Florida from doing that?” Muñiz asked White, in an apparent reference to fetuses. “And at the end of the day, the argument as to why that would be right would be based based on a sort of legal meaning kind of understanding of the right of privacy?”
During his time to speak, Whitaker said that the abortion providers who sued over the 15-week ban were reading Florida’s privacy rights far too broadly.
“They do not provide a limiting principle to distinguish abortion from infanticide, from euthanasia, from spousal abuse,” Whitaker said. “Those are all involved, personal decisions that I suppose the government could be said to be interfering with, in some sense, when the legislature takes action to remedy choices that harm others.”
Conflating abortion with infanticide has, in recent years, become a common anti-abortion talking point. White told the justices that infanticide is already illegal and will remain so, no matter what the Florida supreme court rules in this case.
“Frankly, there’s no reason for the court to be concerned about that,” White said. “This is not a brave new world.”
After signing the six-week trigger ban into effect in April, Governor DeSantis said in a brief statement that he was “proud to support life and family in the state of Florida”. The Florida governor has been hesitant to discuss abortion on the campaign trial.
A whopping 62% of American adults believe abortions should be legal in “all or most cases”, according to a 2022 report published by Pew Research Center. A 2020 Ipsos/Reuters poll found that 56% of likely voters in Florida believe abortion should be legal in most cases. And abortion rights supporters in Florida say the bans violate the explicit privacy protections found in the state constitution.
Florida Republicans passed the 15-week ban on abortion in April 2022, months before the US supreme court ended the federal right to abortion. That same month, a judge revived a 2015 state law that mandated patients wait 24 hours between getting an initial consultation for an abortion and undergoing the procedure.
“It’s been one restriction after another,” said Dr Kanthi Dhaduvai, a Jacksonville abortion provider with Physicians for Reproductive Health.
Ahead of the hearing, Dhaduvai felt “nervous and frustrated,” fearing a court ruling that would make it impossible for her patients to receive “what is often life-saving care”.
Roughly half of Dhaduvai’s patients come to Florida from states like Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama – even Texas.
“I think a lot of people are not aware as to how dangerous this could be, not just for Florida, but the entire region,” she said. “Florida has been a huge access point for people, we already have people traveling these great distances to get care.”
In the months after the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade, Florida saw the greatest increase in the number of legal abortions performed per month, according to a report released this April from the Society of Family Planning. Florida performed more than 82,000 abortions in 2022.
“I’m still providing care and I’m going to continue providing care, within legal limits, even after the decision,” Dhaduvai said.
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/sep/08/florida-abortion-ban-supreme-court Florida supreme court signals openness to abortion ban that would slash access | Florida